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Forging a New Path in 100 Days
April 25, 2018
By: Aimee LaBrie
It started as a left-over obsession from a childhood love of vintage 1970s vans. Rebecca Van Der Horn ‘17 suggested to her fiancé, Mike, What if, after she graduated with her MSW degree, they hit the road in some kind of van or bus, and traveled together for exactly 100 days? The fantasy might have ended there, except Van Der Horn’s fiancé happened to see a small school bus advertised on E-Bay for a very reasonable rate. They bid on the bus and were a little surprised when they won. When they went to pick it up, they christened it “Banjo.” For much of the following year, along with the help of family and friends, they spent weekends working to remove all of the seats, adding a composting toilet and an air conditioner purchased from a dog grooming bus, installing a hydraulic fold-out bed, and setting up a miniature stove. The last thing they did was to paint the former church-shuttle a festive blue.

Van Der Horn, a consummate student, did her homework prior to the trip, marking up road maps with a felt tip pen, targeting the places along highways that had affordable camping sites. She perused a lot of websites from other “skoolies” (people who have converted school buses) for inspiration. Part of her fascination with this idea was about her desire to conserve resources, and part of it had to do with the idea of the challenge — could she and her fiancé (and their Pomeranian/Basset Hound/Whippet/Pointer mix, Fidget) actually pull off a 100 day road trip?

Finally, on May 23, 2017, their family waved good-bye to them as they pulled out of the driveway in Wyckoff, NJ and hit the pavement, one of the many playlists of road tunes blaring from the radio.

Here’s what went wrong: on the first leg of their journey, about two hours into the trip, the bus starting coughing and shaking and eventually sputtered to a stop. After being towed to a station just out of State College, PA, they discovered the battery was shot. Soon after, they were back on the road, headed for Lincoln, Nebraska to see Van Der Horn’s great aunt. Here’s where they went and some of the highlights of what they saw:

  • 25 states and Canada
  • 17 national parks including Yosemite, Zion, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, & Rocky Mountain
  • The sunrise at Grand Canyon
  • Coast of California along Route 1
  • A hotel in Las Vegas that ended up making them money thanks, to Van Der Horn’s previously unknown Blackjack skills
  • The “Great American solar eclipse” as seen from a brewery yard in Jackson Hole, WY
  • Numerous creatures including Grizzly and Blacks, rattlesnakes, and bald eagles
  • They hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park (NP), rappelled into a slot canyon in Zion NP, and sledded down a glacier in Mount Rainier

Though the journey wasn’t necessarily seamless, Van Der Horn found it easy to spend day and night with Mike and Fidget as her companions. “The trip strengthened our ability to problem solve together, and experience life together.” She was also surprised by how easy it was to pack on the miles zooming across the country. “I thought we would get really sick of driving, but we didn’t. When you’re traveling without a certain time that you have to be somewhere, you can look around and notice every beautiful tree.”

They returned to Jersey on September 18. As Van Der Horn reflects on it now, she sees not one lesson, but many. “The trip was valuable in promoting mindfulness for Mike and me. Obviously, having time in nature and in beauty makes it easy to live in the moment and experience ‘now’ and feel whole and mindful…but the long quiet drives were the same way,” she explains. “Driving without a sense of stress or time constraint allowed us both to do it in a meditative kind of way. For me, any practice in meditation and mindfulness will also be useful for self-care and managing some of the intensity that can come with clinical social work practice.”

She also feels that the trip has helped her to prepare for a career as a social worker in ways she couldn’t have anticipated. “We met so many different people, and both of us became less judgmental. No matter where we were, small rural town, truck stop, or wherever, people were excited to meet us. It might sound cliche, but I learned that we are basically more alike than different, and that there is always something to connect you to other people.”

Van Der Horn realizes that not everyone has the opportunity to take time off to travel. “I am so fortunate to have the support I did,” she explains. “When we were telling people about this trip, so many of them said, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that.’ And what I learned is that you can do it. You can look at your life plan and give yourself permission to choose a bit of a detour. Take the risk,” she says.


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